Last week the Mid City West Community Council’s Planning and Land Use (PLUM) Committee heard plans from Ira Smedra, President of ARBA Group, owners of shopping centers and nursing homes, and representatives of his development partners, John Nahas of Regency Centers and Tom Warren of Holland Partner Group, to build 380 residential units in a 26 story tower on the site currently occupied by Kmart and renovate the building and parking lots where Whole Foods, CVS Pharmacy and Citibank are currently located.
Smedra said he has owned the property for over 30 years but has been unable to develop the site because of the restrictions in the Kmart lease. The lease expired last year and the store is now on a month to month lease allowing Smedra to pursue plans that were filed last week with the City of Los Angeles.
There is no height limit or set back requirements on the site, explained the developers. While they could build as many as 800 housing units on the site, they have decided to limit the project to 380 units with a mix of studio, 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments, all at market rate on the seven acre site. The plan presented focuses all the density into a single 26- story building set atop the retail with multiple floors for about 1400 parking spaces, explained the developers who said they believed they were developing the kind of project the city wanted to see on a site like this.
“We are not asking for a single discretionary action,” said John Nahas, VP Investments at Recency Centers, a retail shopping center developer based in Jacksonville, Florida whose operations in California comprise about 30% of their portfolio. “We have a unique approach,” explained Nahas, “we are very neighborhood focused and 80% of our projects have a Whole Foods or other grocery store. We take a fresh look strategy to public place making.”
Members of the Mid City West Community Council and the public were stunned by the scale of the project. Several dozen members of the community spoke, virtually all spoke against the project saying it was too large and the residential tower was out of scale with anything nearby. Several committee members said it seemed the proposed designed actually kept the worst aspects of the current site, the large open parking lots, merely adding more trees, instead of designing something that would engage the community.
Hancock Park Elementary School Principal Ashley Parker said she had not been aware of the project until very recently and was deeply concerned about the construction impacts on her school of 700 students located next door to the project. She and her Vice Principal expressed concerns about traffic safety for the students and the possibility of having to draw new school boundary lines of so many new families were added to the neighborhood that could force out current students.
Mr. Nahas said he has been in contact with the appropriate school representative at LAUSD’s headquarters for months and wanted to work with the school on all those issues.
Aron Celnick, owner and partner of Andre’s Italian Restaurant, noted he was celebrating 41 years at the restaurant this month but his lease expires at the end of year and Smedra had refused to offer him a new lease. The developers objected to that characterization and Mr. Nahas said there would be room for Andre’s in the new shopping center.
At one point, after hearing many negative comments about the project, Mr. Smedra said he was offended by the comments. He said he was the son of Holocaust survivors who lost his father at the age of 19. Smedra added that he was proud of his work as chair of Jewish Health Service where he never turned anyone away who needed medical services.
Committee co-chair Keith Nakata told the Buzz he was disappointed the plans didn’t make more sense with the location.
“It’s a mash up of a downtown high rise building with a Woodland Hills-style shopping mall plunked into the middle of a dense, urban neighborhood.” said Nakata.
Another member of the Mid City West PLUM Committee, Co-Chair Mehmet Berker said he hoped they would re-image the site as something more urban that considers the bus stop and other transportation elements.
While generally supportive of more housing in the area, many committee members were disappointed there was no affordable housing units proposed in the project. Several members said wanted to see more information on how the developers would work to address the traffic congestion at Colgate and Odgen Streets when parents are dropping student off for school or picking them up.
After much discussion with comments from each member of the Mid City West PLUM Committee, the committee recommended the developers meet next with the Mid City West Transportation, Parking and Streetscape Committee to discuss the traffic impacts of the proposed project and ways to make the site more pedestrian friendly based on comments made by several speakers.
The project has been filed with the City’s planning department where it will undergo a site plan review process, explained John Nahas who said the project will also be subject to California Environmental Quality Act review of the transportation impact. He expected it would take about six to eight months for the planning department to approve the project.
“We are not rushing the project, we recognize the public interest in the what we are proposing,” Nahas told the Buzz last week saying it was their first opportunity to present the project to the community.
“We have seen this reaction before,” said Nahas. “It was the first time it was presented to the neighborhood council and we appreciate that it was unexpected and many people weren’t aware of what could be built there. We don’t discount the concerns and will work where we can to address them.”
The next opportunity for the public to see the project is likely to be at a meeting of the Mid City West Transportation, Parking and Streetscape Committee. Click here to view the presentation made at the Mid City West Community Council PLUM Committee.